Editor's Viewpoint: A sad farewell to a political trailblazer
Published 04/07/2011 | 08:00
The death of Sir Oliver Napier, after a long illness, marks a milestone in Northern Ireland politics. As a founder-member and leader of the Alliance Party he, and others, saw the need to break the mould.
The Alliance Party was founded in 1970, when Northern Ireland was a political and violent wasteland. Tragically, neither the Westminster nor Stormont administrations had any success in turning the tide of increasing violence or breaking the political deadlock.
It seemed politically absurd to start a new cross-community party in a province strongly divided along sectarian lines, but this is exactly what Napier and his colleagues did.
Alliance polled well enough initially, and Oliver Napier almost provided a political sensation in 1979 when he narrowly failed to win the Westminster seat from the unionist heavyweights Peter Robinson and William Craig.
However, Alliance was no overnight success, and despite notable victories along the way it took many years of hard slogging to bring the party to where it is today. Alliance now has two Stormont ministers, a Westminster MP, and a large number of MLAs and councillors.
Alliance continues to play a pivotal role in Northern Ireland politics, but this would not have been possible without the vision and courage of Napier and others so long ago.
Oliver Napier, who was 75 and in ailing health, nevertheless lived long enough to witness the fulfilment of an earlier dream, and he continued to believe passionately in cross-community politics, right to the very end.
His political career is a tribute to all those people, most of them anonymous, who worked hard for greater understanding in the face of ingrained sectarianism.
Through their efforts Northern Ireland is a better place today and we owe Oliver Napier and many others a great debt in helping to lead the way.